The Iguazu falls in South America are one of the most dramatic and the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Voted as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, Iguazu is a sight to behold, undoubtedly the most magnificent falls we have ever experienced.
A visit to these falls, the thunderous sound of the falling water, the powerful splash of water, the trails with hundreds of falls spread across the national park, is an experience that will be forever etched in your memory. The volume, the height, the spread, the colors, the vegetation, the flora and fauna...everything about this place is incredible. The falls form a natural border between Argentina and Brazil and hence can be visited from both the countries.
Reaching Iguazu falls
There are two airports within five miles of the falls. If you wish to travel from Argentina side, Puerto Iguazu is the town from where you can visit the falls, while on the Brazilian side, the falls can be accesses from the town Foz do Iguazu. Puerto Iguazo is a 1.5 hr flight away from Buenos Aires and Foz do Iguazu has flights from Rio de Janeiro. Ensure that you have VISA for whichever side of the falls you plan to visit, or both if you would like to see the falls from both sides.
We had our flight booked from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu. However, the airport was shut for some renovation and all flights were directed to Foz do Iguazu, the Brazil side. For a lack of brazilian VISA, we weren't allowed to take that flight. We even attempted to get the VISA from the embassy in Buenos Aires, but we it was too short a notice for the VISA to be arranged.
Nevertheless, we couldn't resist the temptation of seeing this falls at any cost, and hopped on to an 18 hr long bus journey to from Retiro bus terminal to Puerto Iguazu. We took a bus with a company called Crucero Del Norte, and I must say that it was a surprisingly comfortable ride. Remember to go for a Cama seat that are wide, comfortable and recline almost like a bed. (ofcourse, CAMA translates to bed)
From Puerto Iguazu main bus terminal, there are buses every 20 min that take you to Iguazu falls on the Argentina side. It is a 20 min to half an hour ride. You can also get to the Brazilian side of the falls, (i.e. if you have Brazilian VISA) from Puerto Iguazu bus terminal on a 45 min bus ride.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Butterfly hostel and we strongly recommend the place. It is a beautiful place with a nice swimming pool, pool facing rooms, friendly staff, well equipped kitchenette where you can cook your own food. They have dorms as well as individual rooms. We were given a poolside double room that we totally loved. It is very conveniently located only a 10 min walk away from the bus station and you can also rent bicycles from the hostel.
There are lots of cute, pretty hostels and boutique hotels in Puerto Iguazu and depending on what season you are visiting, it might even be possible to walk into a place that you really like from the feel of it.
Exploring Puerto Iguazu
We reached our hostel late afternoon. After cooking some lunch at the pantry and feeling full and rested, we headed out to explore the town. Strolling around the town, we walked up to the sunset point, Las Tres Fronteras, the triple border from where you can see the three countries, brazil, argentina and paraguay. The Iguazu river and the Parana river converge here and form natural borders between the three countries. The evenings are very pleasant here with a beautiful sunset to witness, local artists selling their craft and some shops.
On our way back, we were very happy to see the laid back public life in this small town of Argentina in the evenings. Happy, chirpy public squares and parks with kids playing, jamming, skating and what not; parents with their toddlers out for a walk. and families having a gala time together. We grabbed a hamburger and a helado in the market and headed back to the hostel. In must tell you this, the helados are the best ice creams I have ever had. What gelato is to Italy, helado is to SA. If you ask me what do I miss the most from the trip, it has to be the creamy, melt in the mouth, heladoes.
Exploring the falls
The falls are part of the UNESCO world heritage sites, Parque Nacional Iguazu(Argentina side) and Parque Nacional Do Iguaçu(Brazil side) spread over 225 hectares of protected area, shared between Argentina and Brazil. Higher than the Niagara at 82 m of height, Iguazu falls are a result of an enormous volcanic eruption that happened millions of years ago creating this huge lava cliff and gifting us this unique marvel with a network of around 275 waterfalls, varying in size and spreading across a total width of 2.7 km. This makes Iguazu unhesitatingly the widest and the most voluminous falls in the world, with 80% of the falls falling on the Argentinean side.
On the Argentinean side, you can explore a lot of walking trails through the park's rainforest and get to experience the falls from up and close. There are mainly two walking circuits, the lower circuit and the upper circuit.
The upper circuit is a 1.5 km walk along the top of the falls and you get amazing vistas and vantage points to appreciate the falls from different angles. You come across multiple waterfalls on this trail. The lower circuit, on the other hand takes you towards the bottom of the falls, towards the river. Both the routes are amazing and if you have time, you could easily spend a full day walking around these falls at your leisure. There are lots of varied flora and fauna that you could encounter during your exploration. There are lots of beautiful birds and their sounds add to the sensory experience that this park has to offer. Also, beware of the monkeys and coatis that are plenty in numbers and very eager to snatch any edibles from you.
There is a train that goes from the entrance to the top of the park which stops in 3 different places. You can stop at station cataratas and walk along either of the two circuits from there. This train ride is like a trip back to your childhood, to the fairy tales set up in a jungle. Yes, there are trillions of shimmery butterflies adorning the entire route that bring alive the child in you.
After exploring the walking trails, you can take the train to the next stop, station Garganta. From there it is a 1.2 km walk along beautiful wooden pathways leading up to the highlight of Iguazu falls. One thing that I found very inspiring about the park, is that the pathways are made as standalone structures just mounted onto existing landscape causing absolutely minimal intervention to nature. Also, the network of bridges leading up to the balcony are absolutely safe and wheelchair accessible. As an architect, this was something that truly moved me. A site so adventurous and remote is designed to be universally accessible.
The devil's throat or Garganta del Diablo is the most incredible, the most breathtaking part of the Iguazu falls. It is a horseshoe waterfall that is the largest, widest and the most magnificent of all. Standing at that balcony, overlooking the falls, is the most magical moment of the trip, facing a huge curtain of water falling thunderously from 262 ft high. You are definitely going to be sprayed with the huge cloud of mist created by this thud. It is massive and the panoramic view from the viewpoint is absolutely incredible.
Another highly recommended exploration of the falls is getting right under them. Yes! that is possible. You can book the great adventure tour with Jungle Iguazu. This is the closest you will ever get to the falls. We were definitely not going to miss this. And trust me, it was an extraordinary experience.
The trip starts with a 5 km drive through the forest in open to sky jeeps with bilingual guides who introduce the forest and its inhabitants. It is followed by an absolutely delightful boat ride in the lower Iguazu river, heading towards the falls, through plenty of rapids. We get such fantastic views of falls on both, the Argentinean as well as the Brazilian side and a panoramic view of the Devil's throat. The best part of the ride is when they take you right under the falls. The Devil's throat is too forceful for any boat to withstand, so we definitely cannot go under them, but the falls that we go under are majestic too. You definitely get completely drenched, so better be prepared for it. Thankfully they give you dry bags to store your phones, camera etc.
The Iguazu falls can also be seen from the sky. Yes! I have heard of Brazilian side offering helicopter rides to see bird's eye view of the mighty Iguazu. Another experience we missed was visiting the falls at night. Yes, for five days every month, closer to the full moon, the falls can be visited at night as well. Must be so mesmerizing to see the water glistening in the moonlight. So plan your visit accordingly if you would like to include this in your trip.
We are pure vegetarians trying to survive in South America, so meals were always a daunting task. We found a Subway in Iguazu national park at one of the train stations. And, May be it was the hunger or the joy of finding something familiar, I must tell you, that was one of the best subway we have had till date. Since this was the first few days of our trip, we started expecting that Subways would be a common find in rest of South America, only to be disappointed later. Anyways, do try the Subway and carry some munchies along with you for the day and something to drink to keep yourself hydrated.